The New England Patriots have sunk to lows not seen in decades at Gillette Stadium and Foxborough Stadium before it. The once mighty and feared juggernaut has become fodder for even the worst NFL teams to feast upon and pad their records. It's all come down to this: a situation that younger fans have to feel is surreal, and more veteran ones are experiencing "deja vu all over again," as the great Yankee Yogi Berra is reputed to have said.
Lots of speculation abounds about why and how the greatest NFL franchise in history has fallen so precipitously from the Mount Olympus of football to the Mariana Trench.
Has it been the awful drafting of talentless players or those reached for several rounds ahead of where they should have been drafted? Or is it the free-agent acquisitions who reaped the cash and flopped? Yes, those are factors, indeed.
Yet, there is one overarching reason that is the essence of why the formerly great New England Patriots have fallen off the proverbial edge of the NFL world and into the abyss. Stand up and take a bow, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, the responsible parties for the massive mess that is now the New England Patriots, NFL laughingstock.
First, it was Belichick who sowed the seeds of the collapse. And it was born of hubris, a Greek word meaning, "exaggerated pride or self-confidence."
Belichick and Kraft bear full responsibility for enfeebling the once proud edifice called the New England Patriots Dynasty and consigning it to the NFL rubbish heap. The Head Coach kicked the greatest player who ever suited up for an NFL game to the curb and it was the team's owner himself who allowed it to happen.
The New England Patriots fashioned their own demise from the top
Belichick's hubris evidently led him to think his brilliant coaching was the prime determinant of his great success from 2001-2019. Without a doubt, he contributed lots. But it should have been evident to all, including Belichick, that the man mainly responsible was none other than Tom Brady. Belichick's record as a Head Coach without Tom Brady leading the team is below .500 and dropping fast.
Number 12 should never, ever have played a game, any game outside the blue, silver, and red of the Patriots uniform. Whether Belichick inexplicably felt the 40-year-old Brady, who'd just won his sixth Super Bowl, was "over-the-hill" or not, Kraft, as the owner, had the greater responsibility to ensure that Brady's entire career would be spent in New England. If Belichick was naive enough to think he could do things without Brady, Kraft should have known better. He didn't.
Mr. Kraft is a brilliant businessman who dismissed critics of his purchase of the Patriots for a then exorbitant sum of cash and turned it into one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. But Kraft made the preeminent error in the Tom Brady fiasco. He alone allowed it to happen to his team.
When problems arose between the coach and player, they must have been known to all in Foxborough. Yet, it was Kraft's responsibility not to allow the situation to fester to the point where Brady wanted out. It was Kraft who needed to mediate the situation to ensure that TB12 never left.
At that point, should Belichick remain intransigent, then the decision then and there was to choose between him and Brady. That decision should have been an easy one for Kraft. It was Brady, as current history bears out, who was the primary reason for all the success all the time.
What Brady wanted should have taken precedence, not Belichick. Kraft, as the ancient knight in the "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" movie noted, "chose poorly." He's now reaping the consequences of that truly awful decision.
As quoted in Pro Football Talk in 2021, Kraft had this to say,
"... After 20 years, I thought he was entitled to make a decision that was what he thought was best for him and where he was at. We gave him the ability to do that." Kraft was wrong. It was his responsibility to keep Brady happy, and he punted. It was a shank punt of monumental proportions.
The New England Patriots owner bears the greater responsibility
The ultimate irony and sadness inherent in all this is that it was completely avoidable. Neither Brady nor Belichick should ever have played or coached (if Belichick should subsequently leave) another game in any other place than Foxborough. Belichick and Brady should have walked arm-in-arm into football history together when Brady ultimately decided to retire. As for Belichick, he'd have already beaten the wins record of legendary Miami coach Don Shula and have had nothing left to prove.
They say, "Pride cometh before the fall," and Belichick seems to have fallen victim to that old adage. Yet, owner Robert Kraft has the greater responsibility. His flawed decision-making was due to a
a misunderstanding of the dire consequences, a misplaced sense of loyalty, and a reluctance to take a serious matter into his own hands and to rectify it.
All-in-all, it's been a lousy ride since that last Super Bowl win over the Rams in 2018, and the road ahead looks long and rocky. It's genuinely a darn shame for all involved, including Patriot Nation and the now-suffering fans. Yet, perhaps the worst aspect of this colossal fall is that it never had to come to this at all. Never.
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